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Three To Ninety-Four'
by Valeria Reyes

Instagram Handle: @rey_valre
Age: 19

Three To Ninety-Four'
by Valeria Reyes

Three To Ninety-Four

I glanced at the thick tall trees that remained swaying outside my backyard. They were
restrained by the wooden fence surrounding my neighbor's house. This was around the usual
time that the uneasy feeling would arrive. For as long as I can remember that brief hour in the
day when the sun would set and all surrounding landmarks, trees, and houses would fade to
black, but the vast blue or orange color would remain in the sky–that would unsettle me. In an
attempt to combat this looming feeling that arose from my environment, I would make the
proactive choice and stay outside most days, and on occasion, wait for that feeling.
My backyard was the main blueprint for most of my creative aspirations as a child. Here,
my backyard was a music studio where my dream of becoming a talented singer took shape. An
archery range when I found a curved stick. A treasure island where my protector, partner in
crime, and my dog would scavenge. It's interesting considering my backyard was not a
conventionally beautiful space. Cars and vehicle parts were scattered around the area. No grass
in sight, except for weeds, and one tree that was too tall to climb (but I loved to try). In the hot,
dry, green-less space, my sense of boredom was cured and my connection to nature began to
form. For hours on end, the sun would pierce my brown skin and my small legs would never
tire as I roamed my backyard. The air would happily enter and exit my body, lungs pleased. My
energy and devotion to the outside were unphased and that uneasy feeling that was brought with
time would come and go, but never stay. In this youth, I lacked care, a sense of insecurity, and

doubt. In this phase of my life, I had only tasted what I eventually would understand as identity
and how my environment played a key role in my belonging.

End of Three
Beginning of Ninety-Four

As I walked to school the luscious green trees would cover the tiny houses along the
streets and the little patches of grass from neighbors would be visible. The air would enter and
exit my body, lungs disgruntled. Apart from the trees and the little patches of grass, there was no
nature. On the walks back from school my eyes no longer focused on the greenery, but rather, the
homeless man bivouacked on the corner of my street that I would see every day. Then my eyes
would dart to the trail of black smoke coming from a nearby truck that would frequently pass.
My attention then turned to the ghastly smell that would be especially poignant on hot days.
Perhaps I would see the single mother picking up her children from school before heading over
to her second job–she closely resembled my mother. This would eventually become my new
Around the age of nine, my parents divorced and I moved from the rural desert of
Hesperia to a largely Hispanic city called South Gate. The adjustment from the high desert to a
city in South East Los Angeles was quite difficult and the absence of a physical backyard, a
place that fostered and developed my sense of liberation and security, did not help this transition.
The walks to school would make up for the longing for a backyard, but even those walks would
not always satiate me. At this age, my sense of stability had faltered and the lingering uneasiness
of the sky, world, and backyard, reflected my perception of belonging to my environment.
Stemming from a lack of access, a turn to digital devices, and the growing insecurities
that followed me as I entered my preteen years, my move to South Gate prompted my turn away

from nature. This is because South Gate, one of the many primarily Brown and Black
communities in Los Angeles, was home to numerous injustices like environmental racism,
housing instability, and gentrification. In fact, factories in our area were contributing to the
horrendous smell I would recognize on my walks. Trucks that would pass along our streets were
a result of the nearby freeway that was threatening to expand into our neighborhoods. My own
family’s financial situation was impacted by the lack of policies in place to protect residents and
I eventually learned that, in some areas, South Gate was at the ninety-fourth percentile for
pollution burden.
Despite being less physically attached to my environment, it was through my
participation in community-centered groups that my connection to South Gate began developing.
After being convinced by a friend, I joined my school’s Youth for Environmental Justice group
where I learned that South Gate’s lack of nature and air pollution was closely tied to its status as
a low-income community. Joining this group presented a massive shift in my life. For one, upon
joining this group I was pushed into several campaigns, protests, and collective activities
designed to combat systemic efforts to harm my neighborhood. It was here that I joined my first
protest alongside my friends and fellow members of South East Los Angeles. Although initially
shocking and overwhelming, my participation sparked a mission and connection with other
members of my community. It was here that feelings of anger, hurt, and most importantly,
healing were shared. Once joining these efforts, that continuous feeling of unsettlement and
hesitancy no longer seemed perpetual. The slow rise of Ninety-Four had planted its seed as a
Additionally, learning about the several injustices ignited my fervor for social justice.
Being part of community efforts was a heavy reminder and call against government treatment of

our Brown and Black neighborhoods. Witnessing and partaking in the struggle encouraged me to
take an active approach. In turn, influencing my goals, passions, and role toward larger change.
This allowed me to reevaluate how my identity as a low-income Latina can influence my dreams
of becoming a public policy-maker, alter the tools and paradigms I equip, and impact the way I
reimagine the disruption of our current systems.
It was in large part because I was thrust into collective action that a newfound sense of
security and relationship with my environment developed. Although not the typical nature that I
had grown up with, South Gate became representative of both the physical and non-physical
aspects of my backyard and identity. Ninety-four reflects the struggles and perseverance of not
just Brown and Black folk in my neighborhood, but the development and goal toward liberation
that influenced my path of belonging and integration into my community. Therefore,

I am unsettled. I am an advocate. I am dry air. I am pollution. I am three. I am ninety-four.

I am my backyard.

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